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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Hollie Bone

'I covered Nicola Bulley's disappearance from start - there are many unanswered questions'

On the Monday after Nicola Bulley went missing, there were just a handful of reporters who had come to the scene, in a sleepy little village in Lancashire.

The majority were local news crews and only three of us were representing national newspapers.

We gathered in the car park of St Michael’s on Wyre village hall, a 10-minute walk from where Nicola had vanished just three days before.

Across the carpark Superintendent Sally Riley was holding a ring binder, reminding herself of the details of the case - Nicola had been seen shortly before 9am on a regular dog walk, but less than an hour later her phone was discovered on a bench.

It seemed curious to me that the police had begun searching for the mum-of-two so quickly - normally in missing persons cases, 24 hours must lapse with no contact with the individual before police start search procedures.

The exception is when the person missing is vulnerable or there are other extenuating factors involved in their disappearance.

But in Nicola’s case, the alarm was raised around an hour after her phone was found and police began searching immediately.

As we queried this rapid response with Supt Riley she revealed that Nicola’s phone had still been in use and was connected to a work Teams call when it was found.

The location on the River Wyre near St Michael's on Wyre where Nicola's body was found (PA)

There was an explosion of interest from the British media overnight.

As the timeframe of Nicola’s movements became narrowed down to a 20-minute window, the circumstances became even more baffling.

Friends and family members who know my line of work were calling me demanding answers: “what has happened to Nicola Bulley?”

In salons and at restaurants I overheard people discussing the case.

Police officers walk past flowers and yellow ribbons tied to a bridge for Nicola Bulley (PA)

The public interest was growing exponentially and each new day at the scene more reporters, photographers and camera crews were turning up.

The family and friends of Nicola were grateful to have their appeal for information out there, but no-one could ever imagine it would be their loved one’s face plastered all over the news.

Five days after Nicola disappeared, I spoke to her parents at their home as they vowed to never stop looking for their eldest daughter.

Flowers, and ribbons on a bridge over the River Wyre (PA)

They told me how close they were with their two daughters, Nicola, 45, and Louise; her younger sister.

They told how Nicola and her partner, Paul Ansell, 44, had given them “two beautiful grandchildren”.

But they broke down in tears as they questioned how their loving daughter, who was doing so well in her job as a mortgage advisor, could just vanish with no explanation.

“We don’t know what to make of it,” Ernie, 73, said.

The family clung to the hope that each new day might bring them a clue as to where Nicola had gone.

Her friends organised walks for volunteers from all corners of the UK, who were giving up their time to track along the river in a bid to find answers.

Police divers, helicopters, drones, sniffer dogs, detectives in suits, fire crews with pole cameras all came to the scene to help find Nikki.

But the days rolled on and there was still nothing, not even a piece of clothing.

Police search teams near the area where Nicola's body was found (

A week on, the village lined the streets with placards showing Nicola’s smiling face.

Above her image was the word MISSING, below it was a call for dash cam footage.

But in the second week there was a new glimmer of hope.

A private underwater search expert, Peter Faulding, 60, pledged to search the river with his state-of-the-art sonar equipment for four days.

He searched several miles of the river upstream and downstream but found nothing.

Mr Faulding said: "Sadly, the discovery was not found in the river but in the reeds at the side of the river which was not part of our remit as the side scan sonar does not penetrate reeds above or below the water."

Detective Chief Superintendent Pauline Stables and Assistant Chief Constable Peter Lawson held a short press conference this evening outside Police HQ in Hutton, Preston, Lancashire (Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)

People online had started obsessing over Nicola’s disappearance and speculating with their own wild theories.

It wasn’t long before amateur sleuths descended on the small village determined to launch their own ‘investigations’.

Unsettling videos of people digging up land began to surface, reports emerged of people trespassing on property and using the scene of Nicola’s disappearance as a place to make viral content or have family picnics.

The area on the River Wyre where the body was recovered on Sunday, 19th February (Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)

One young man who had come just to spectate asked: “why don’t the police drain the river” in a bizarre attempt to offer his nugget of advice.

Another came on multiple occasions with a GoPro strapped to his chest so not to miss a second of the action on tape.

It came as no shock then when the atmosphere in the village turned hostile and Nicola’s family no longer wanted to speak to the media.

Police on patrol in St Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire, where Nicola Bulley went missing (PA)

But compelled to keep the message and hope alive to find Nicola, her parents, sister, partner and friends decided to turn a bridge over the River Wyre into a ‘bridge of hope’.

Countless messages from schoolchildren and well wishers, sending their prayers and thoughts to Nicola, sharing happier memories of times spent with her, were written on yellow ribbons and hearts, and were tied to the railings.

By the end of the third week of searching Nicola’s dad told how “every day is a struggle” as they continued to pray for a breakthrough.

But on Sunday morning, two walkers scouring the banks of the River Wyre discovered a body.

There are questions facing police about their handling of the investigation and private health information about Nicola that was released to the media.

Lancashire Police has referred itself to the police watchdog about the revelation which included details about Nicola’s issues with alcohol as the struggled with symptoms of the peri menopause.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) confirmed last week that it was assessing whether an investigation into the force’s actions would be necessary.

Questions have also been raised about whether the information helped their investigation to find the mum.

And further questions must now be asked as to how Nicola’s body was missed in previous searches.

While most people can appreciate that a river has infinite variables that affect searches, it must also be recognised that this stretch of river, along with another dozen miles, was scoured daily by police until last Thursday.

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